July 2, 2008

‘Beauty and the Beast’ Bringing a Bit of Disney Magic to Jennerstown

By Carla DeStefano

Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" is best summed up in one word -- big.

From the costumes, to the sets, to the music, the show is a tall order to fill. But director Chan Harris is up for the challenge as his cast takes the stage beginning tonight at the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown.

Harris, of New York, says it has been a fun process of putting the lavish musical on the Playhouse stage. The big locations in the musical, which include several buildings and a town, require larger sets, which had to be configured to fit the stage at the Playhouse.

"One of the joys is that we get to reimagine things. There are no expectations to re-create the Broadway show," Harris says. "We have the essentials of the storytelling, but our design is a bit darker vision than Disney's. All fairy tales are a little scary. It has been fun to reimagine this fairy tale without taking away the magic of it being a Disney film."

"Beauty and the Beast" is based on a well-known French fairy tale about Belle, a kind-hearted but misunderstood young woman, and the Beast, a pompous prince who has been turned into an animal by the spell of an enchantress. The only chance the Beast has of breaking the spell is to learn both how to love and how to be loved, lessons for which he turns to Belle for help.

"For those who know the musical, they will see a slightly different spin," Harris says. "My hope is that people will come to see it and say, 'I didn't see that before. I didn't see those relationships. I never saw it like that before.'"

Costume designer Amanda Kirkstadt, 21, of Johnstown, has been working since January to design the 65-plus costumes needed for the show. The recent graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City says she has been creating costumes that are more subtle than the elaborate ones that were on Broadway. Her costumes are still true to each character and full of detail, but scaled down to fit the stage. She says it's an honor to work for a musical that has always been special to her.

"I grew up with all these animated Disney movies. I remember seeing 'Beauty and the Beast' in the movie theater, and it was my favorite," Kirkstadt says. "So when I was sketching these designs, I just let my imagination go and had a lot of fun doing it."

Jennifer Blood of New York will play Belle. It's a role she finds refreshing.

"This is the first musical that I've done in a while, because I have been doing plays," Blood says. "I've been playing a lot of little girls in other productions, and although Belle is young, she is a young adult and it's a great role to have."

With 27 roles in the show, the cast is the largest at the Playhouse this year. Jeffrey C. Wolf will make his Mountain Playhouse debut as the Beast.

Other cast members will include Carrie Tillis as Mrs. Potts, Matthew Barndt as Chip, Larry Tobias as Lumiere, Frederic Heringes as Cogsworth and Nick Ruggeri as Maurice, Belle's father.

"It's a big show with lots of people and special-effect type things," Blood says. "I hope the audience is moved with the piece. I hope they walk away realizing that beauty isn't skin-deep. There is much more to all of us than what we look like."

Related events

Opening Night Party: Members of the audience are invited to stay after the 8 p.m. performance today for the traditional opening night party. The hors d'oeuvres are complimentary with a cash bar.

Fourth of July Picnic Buffet and Theater package: Green Gables Restaurant and the Mountain Playhouse are offering an all-you-care- to-eat picnic buffet for both lunch and dinner on Friday, combined with a matinee or dinner performance. Lunch will be served from noon- 2 p.m., followed by the 2 p.m. matinee. The dinner buffet will be served beginning at 5 p.m. followed by the 8 p.m. performance. Cost is $20 for the lunch and matinee or $30 for dinner and the evening show.

Sunday Talk Back: The audience is invited to stay for a casual conversation with the actors and producer after the 3 p.m. matinee performance on Sunday

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